Over the course of her career, Aisha Tyler has been able to shift seamlessly between acting and hosting. This fall she returns as the voice of Lana Kane on the long running FX animated series “Archer.” She is also hosting the after show for the Amazon series “The Boys,” called “Prime Rewind: Inside The Boys.”
Moderating “The Boys” after show appealed to her “because there are these big sociocultural ideas embedded in the material,” she said. “It’s different from other after shows that just talk about what happened on the episode from a fan perspective; this after-show really delves into the themes and how they relate to what’s happening in the larger culture. It ends up being a show about ideas and not just the narrative path of the characters.”
Her work on “Archer” taps different skills. “The interesting thing about doing voice work, in some ways it’s harder because you don’t have all that world-building that you get when you’re doing live-action when you’re dressed in character and interacting on a real set. With voice work, you’re standing in a padded room by yourself screaming into the void. But in some ways that makes it easier because you’re able to just focus on creating an experience with your voice — and it doesn’t matter what you look like when you show up; it’s deeply disappointing for everybody involved, I limp in wearing whatever I slept in the night before.”
One of Tyler’s earliest career highlights was her long-running role on “Friends.” Before that, she was host of “Talk Soup” on E!
When asked to share a worst moment in her career, it was a big pre-“Friends” audition that came to mind.
My worst moment …
“Years and years ago when I was on ‘Talk Soup,’ one of the fun things that we did — we wanted to make it a more substantial comedy show, so we started doing a lot of sketches. Previously it had just been: You show a clip from an outrageous daytime talk show and joke about it. But we wanted to create some characters and do these sketches.
“So one of the characters we created was called Foxy Chocolat, who was a blaxploitation crime fighting character. It was very funny and fun and filled with the tropes and stereotypes from the ’70s. It was a blast to play, especially because we had a very low budget, so we were running around L.A. and shooting a cheap version of this genre, busting jive turkeys.
“So she became this popular character and people in the business were asking for a tape of her. Like, we sent a tape to Quentin Tarantino of all the sketches because he wanted to see them.
“And then I got a call that they were looking for a very similar character for the third Austin Powers movie, called ‘Goldmember’ (from 2002). And I was just thrilled because I had been playing this character forever, she was so popular, everybody loved her, I loved her. And I had this inside information that I was a shoo-in for the role, which you should never believe. Never take that to heart!
“I was still young enough and new enough, and I think at any age it’s hard not to get excited about and attached to a role if you think it was a role you were born to play. I had done some guest roles on TV up to that point and if I got this, it could be life-changing. The fact is for most actors, when you audition, you don’t have a lot of foresight about whether something is going to be a hit or not. But when you audition for a franchise that’s already a massive global hit, the stakes are very clear to you from the beginning.
“So I had a great meeting and audition with (director) Jay Roach and he was lovely and really complimentary and I was just so sure I was going to get it. And as everybody knows, that part went to Beyoncé.
“I was just as heartbroken as I could possibly be, especially because I had been playing this character for a year and I was so good at it. I mean, it’s Beyoncé in marquee lights, I get it. But it was probably one of the only times when I was really heartbroken about losing a role and at the time I thought this was the last big opportunity that was going to come my way. I was very melodramatic about it, very eighth grade. But I was like, if I can’t get a job playing the role I already play, then how am I ever going to get another opportunity?
“Because early on you’re always thinking, if I don’t get this job I’m going to die. Which is really how I felt inside.
“But the truth is, I didn’t die and something equally extraordinary came along. Almost immediately after that I got the audition for ‘Friends’ and by all accounts it was a life-changing experience for me, not just as an actor and not just in terms of how people perceived me and my abilities, but the jobs and opportunities that it opened for me.”
Acting careers can be financially precarious. Because Tyler was hosting “Talk Soup” at the time, was the sting of not getting “Goldmember” softened by the fact that she still had a job hosting a TV show?
“When I was on ‘Talk Soup’ I was still paying off my college loans, so I was not by any means wealthy. That was a tiny little TV show on a tiny little network, so it wasn’t a big money-maker for me.
“I didn’t get a huge payday on ‘Friends’ either because I didn’t have a lot of other credits, so I got television minimum wage. I think a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, the cast was making a million dollars, were you?’ And it’s like, ‘No, I was making a sandwich and a choice of side salad.’ But I knew that it could change things for my career and it was buoying personally. There was a longstanding controversy about the lack of diversity on that show, and I was the only Black character to have a long running arc so it’s been meaningful to be part of that discussion and these are conversations we still need to keep having.”
The takeaway …
“You have to realize that this isn’t your last opportunity. You have to develop a thick skin, which means be passionate, put your all into what you do — and then move forward. It’s very much a Buddhist principle of detachment; you put your heart and soul into something and make it as beautiful and intricate as possible, and then you have to be able to walk away from it and on to the next thing.
“You never let one single disappointment define you. So I’m still moving forward, still growing and hopefully making space for other artists — creators of color and women — to come behind me and do what I haven’t been able to do yet.”
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